Gienah Northen Planes, April 3015: First Blood
It was early morning when the two lances crested hill-15/gp, only half an hour from their destination. Two of the four moons were still visible in the pale morning light, and oddly undamaged fields and farms were scattered in the landscape. The pattern of 3rd succession war fighting showed: any clearly non military structure was left alone as much as possible. As there were no strategic targets near, this part of the planet looked fairly undamaged: roads had crude roadblocks every mile or so, powercables were often repaired and only suitable for non industry users, and here and there overgrown craters told of battles fought. Still pale orange 'grain' fields covered much of the lands, and a kind of cows grazed in the field - although most were already moving away from the thirty feet metal monsters.
Deborah took as much cover with her Wolverine as the sparse windbraker bushes allowed and checked her sensors for blips. Her first mission, and one she was destined to fail. The instructions she got from her Free Worlds League liason were clear: "Take a mech and vehicle lance and investigate why the Lyrian Troops were defending grid location A7D3/G0P3. Anything worth taking is worth a 10% salvage fee." Which she had done: she had even taken two extra vehicles for pickup duty.
The problem was that they were countermanded by the orders she got from Precentor Vandel: "The Lyrian Commonwealth has discovered the remains of a Vincent corvette destroyed over Gienah during the first succession war. It seems that the command module survived reentry and that the computer core is still salvageble. See that it is destroyed."
She no longer amazed why her unit was created in record time, and why she had been hired by the Free World League. Rho agents must have been working like mad to have gotten her unit here. Failure was not an option - or was inevitable, depending on your point of view.
Slightly ahead the Phoenix-Hawk 'Dancer' signalled with its hand. Deborah admitted she liked its pilot: cadet Wanda van Buren talked little, but when she did, she talked sense. She also had the best maintained mech and could cheerfully lift a full machine gun ammo belt. She also had an acceptable score of 31% on the gunnery test yesterday. Not as good as her 43%, but even at home she had been one of the best shots. 'Lance', 'Mechs', Deborah read. To early for her liking, but an encounter with an outer perimeter patrol was likely with her units current line speed forced by Miriam's Grasshopper 'Vulcano' and the two Scorpions.
She gestured that the Vulcano and repainted Wolverine Horizon should join her, three pale orange and green mechs focussing their sensors, while the Phoenix-Hawk moved behind another copse. The stripped Packrat and it's guardian Galleon retreated to the previous hill. The twin vedette and twin scorpion tanks stopped to the side just behind the ridge - Deborah wanted them as undamaged as possible for the real mission and they had lousy test shooting scores: on average 18%. The battle computer chewed on the radar signatures of blips and finally suggested 3 medium mechs. According to the book they should keep their distance as their sensors would have no doubt picked up their full lance, and attacking a majority was never smart. The problem was that she could not allow them to do that. If the target had any additional defences she could be pinched between two units, so she had to force a battle here and now. On her signal the Horizon moved left and the Dancer right like she wanted to encircle them, but weakening her center. This was one of those gambits the books frowned upon. For a second she had contemplated keeping the Horizon in the center and taking a flank herself, but Miriam, although a useful XO, was not a real commander and she shuddered about the mess Micheal Ironford would make of the battle. Hopefully the Lyrians were bad shots.
After some time a Shadow-Hawk and two Withworths reached the top of the far hill. They were painted in standard Lyrian cammo, the unit designation to small to recognise. As soon as they had a clear shot all three fired at the Grasshopper, though only a few missiles hit target. The Vulcano fired back, as did Deborah, but they scored no hits. Falling back behind the hill, Deborah was depending on Wanda's and Micheal's data. Her gambit seemed to work: all three mechs moved forward to take out the Vulcano and her Wolverine, before her flank mechs could return.
Tense second ticked by until the three mech crested hill 15. As before they targetted the Grasshopper, but now her tank lance returned fire too. Deborah pressed forward wanting to use the short range firepower of her Wolverine and the Vulcano when some missiles hit the Vulcano's head and Miriam could not longer control her mech.
The Steiner mech used their jumpjets to get some more cover and to fire on the downed Grasshopper, but Deborah jumped before her fallen XO and shielded her for most of the damage. Warning lights and tremors told her that she was loosing armor, but she quickly compensated for the lost weight.
Miriam righted herself again, trying to close in, but the experienced Steiner mechs were never where she expected them to move. Deborah took a few precious seconds to look at how the tanks acted and yelled furiously in the comm: "Samson: fire control and distance"; all her tanks were so busy shooting at 'the best' target that they didn't concentrate their firepower and were spread out to close to the Lyrian mechs: one kick of those mediums and they would surely loose a track or even be destroyed.
The dance moved to the valley below, the Steiner mechs more or less ignoring the ineffectual vehicles, while the Aurora and Vulcan got more and more damaged. Yet the Shadow-Hawk was also hit repeatedly and it suddenly shuddered at it was cored from the rear by the Dancers large laser. The pilot turned to face its new opponents, lost track of the Vulcano and moved to the best - but very predictable - position. Suddenly the Vulcano was next to it. Shadow-Hawk versus Grasshopper with less than fifty meters between them: now the Vulcano proved its name. Laser after laser hit in its vulnerable rear and suddenly the Shadow-Hawk fell like a puppet with cut strings as the fusion reactor was cored.
The Withworths had kept some more distance, to fully utilize their missiles, so, seeing the destruction of the commander and the arrival of the undamaged Phoenix-Hawk and Wolverine, they tried to increase the range. The Horizon and Aurora gave chase and managed to blow of part of a leg of one Withworth and damaged a jumpport of the other. Then Deborah decided that it took to long: no doubt the base camp had been warned and each moment she spent chasing allowed reinforcement to be sent to the target zone. She dropped the chase and ordered the advance, but asked Wanda to keep tabs on them.
In the next half hour Deborah pressed for speed, the time for stealth was over. Miles passed by and the land got flatter and more barren. Gienah was a well populated planet, with villages and minor cities everywhere. Still, in comparison to earth it lacked something. If there were no people, there were no traces of them either. This highland had been barren during the last thousand years, with no minable ores, so it was quite possible that nobody had trot here before. It told Deborah how young the inner-sphere actually was - a baby compared to home. Small wonder that they behaved like children too.
Her battle computer pulled her out of her revery - they were closing on the objective. Only a few minutes behind schedule she saw the camp. About 20 prefab buildings were scattered over an uneven field with small copse and a few crater like lakes. To her dismay she spotted only a lance of vehicles: "Vulcano, Dancer, anybody, can you spot more than those 2 hunters and 2 bulldogs?", Deborah asked. Silence followed. "Okay, Dancer you guard 'Retrieval', Vulcano, Horizon, and Vedettes you close in and target the tanks, I will follow with the Scorpions and sweep for hidden units."
All units swept forward, and Deborah smiled: Star League pattern 7b 'Covered attack', executed as it should. Suddenly, from bushes outside the field a full barage of missiles hit the Vulcano as a Javelin broke cover. It had been placed outside her sweep pattern and Deborah cursed. It immediately jumped away to escape retaliation and she wasn't fool enough to follow it. Then the Hunters opened fire and shortly after the Vedettes returned it, while the mechs jumped before them, lessening their chances to hit something, but protecting the tanks whilst giving them good return fire. Closer and closer while again the Steiner units mostly targetted the Vulcano. Then a hunter blew up, as Deborah and the two scorpion swept the buildings near the tanks with their sensors looking for hidden units. A bulldog exploded as the large laser of the Dancer pierced a weak spot in its armour. Only two vehicles and a light mech remained of the opposition and several tanks moved quickly forward to sieze the moment.
Then the tracks were blown of Vedette-2 near one prefab building. The Vulcano moved forward and was swamped by an alpha strike of a Shadow-Hawk and three SRM-Scorpion's shooting from concealed positions already checked. Its head was hit 2 or 3 times and Miriam went down like a rock. All enemy units converged on the fallen Grasshopper and Deborah saw no other choice then to surrender the mech to the Lyrians.
In the mean time the Packrat crew had timed their move well. As soon as the last Bulldog moved away from the building which covered the dug-out command module, it sped towards it and the techs entered the dome. The Galleon swerved to block the remaining Hunter, while Vedette-1 parked itself next to its trackless brother to pick up the crew.
The Steiner units in the camp tried to kill the Packrat, but it used its speed and position well, so only 1 shot hit. Deborah willed herself to forget the loss of Miriam and the Grasshopper and ordered the Horizon and the remaining Vedette to her position. She still had more long range power than the Lyrians, although in the rear she saw one of the damaged Withworths creeping nearer.
"Oh ****, we triggered the self destruct", came the releasing words of her 'retrieval' team.
"Dancer, Galleon, shield Packrat", Deborah said as her 5 AC/5s shot at the remaining Hunter and she answered the missile salvo from the Javelin with one of her own. The Horizon took several hits as it held position to protect the Packrat and Galleon from the Javelin, while the Dancer took of to engage the Withworth. 'A good move', Deborah thought, while a lucky hit from her AC destroyed the drive wheel of the Hunter.
Neither the Javelin, nor the short ranged Lyrian Scorpion tanks dared to follow them, as concentrated AC/5 fire would surely destroy them before they would come into effective range. The Shadow-Hawk and Bulldog followed for some time exchanging long range fire but at those speed of bumpy terrain only two shots hit for minor armor damage. Had the Withworth joined them the might have stood a change, but it had fled for the amazingly undamaged Phoenix-Hawk.
Deborah walked away from the Marik liasons quarters, her head still swarming from the insults she had taken. 'A 100% failure', he had called it. 'It will go on your record', he promised. Deborah had answered that she would formally complain about this rating at the MRB; she needed to sent a HPG message anyway, although, knowing Rho, ComStar would already know.
She vowed to get Miriam back: if ComStar could stand up to the Coordinator of the Draconis Combine, she could stand up to a Lyrian support regiment or two.